Tromso, called the Capital of The Northern Lights, is the best place in the world to see aurora, the beautiful green-purple lights in the sky! Although the primary purpose of my trip was seeing the northern lights, I was pleasantly surprised by absolutely stunning nature here in winter, and plentiful other things to do around Tromso! It is perfect for a long weekend-short trip kind of visit and can easily be done as a self driven tour ! If you don’t have a driver’s licence, are afraid to drive in the winter, just want to enjoy your holiday without the hassle or lack proper winter clothing, you can book a ready tour, which will take you to the best places and provide all the needed clothing!
Exploring the Northernmost Inhabited Area in the World – Svalbard
The best time to visit Northern Norway – When Should You Come to See the Northern Lights?
You need the sky to be dark to see the aurora – and it is the polar night here from November till January, when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, but you still get some light during the day. We visited Tromso in February, so we also saw stunning sunrises and sunsets. For best visibility you can also check Moon phases for perfect dark sky. Many say March is the best time for a visit, but the AirBnB host we stayed with, recommended November, as she considered the skies to be clearer with a lesser chance for snow storms. Many also say that you should stay for at least three nights to be sure you get a chance at aurora. We stayed for four nights and we saw northern lights every night, and sky was cloudless! The forecast wasn’t even that strong, only about 2KP. We used this website to see the latest forecast.
How to get to Tromso
We used SAS to fly there, but the airport is also served by low-costers as Norwegian, so plenty of opportunities to visit! Some people do a roadtrip in Norway with Tromso as a stop, but most of my friends have done this in the summer – which is not the best time for aurora.
Best Car Rental in Norway
As we had a free weekend rental coupon with Europcar, we used that. There were no unpleasant surprises with the extra deposits or charges, so I can definitely recommend that.
Where to Stay in Tromso – Hotel vs AirBnB
We stayed at AirBnB house (register here and get $25 off your first stay!) because we needed two rooms, as there was three of us, we wanted to have a parking place for the car and option to make our own meals was very important, as Norway is notoriously expensive. For 4 nights (2 rooms) we paid 750 euros. This was on the cheaper side, comparing to
However, we did encounter a few hiccups with our accommodation. Firstly, the host put us in a different house that the one we had booked. While the house was very stylish – American themed, and everything was bright shade of pink (including the toaster and tea kettle!), I don’t remember seeing so much dirt and disarray anywhere else I have stayed. And I stay in hotels and other types of accommodation at least 70 nights a year. It was SO dirty, that some days we were washing dishes for everyone (and there were five more rooms apart from our two), took out trash, bought trash bags and seriously considered throwing out some of the pans, as they had lost all the telfon cover on them, so cooking on those was impossible. Otherwise it was just not pleasant to eat and stay in this environment. The price of the room included self-cooked breakfast, which in reality meant that we ate someone else’s food on the first morning, as it was not clear which was the communal food. Someone ate ours the next day. One night we woke up from someone feverishly trying to open doors to our room, as the host had overbooked the house, had not left any instructions and the guests had to sleep on the sofa. We did meet the host finally on the last day, when she was cleaning the house, and she said that she had a few night shifts at work and because of this the house looked like this. She was a nice person, but considering the price we paid, being nice does not compensate for the accommodation issues. Other guests said this was the worst AirBnB experience they had encountered.
Other Costs – Food, Ferry and Entrance Fees
Norway is very expensive. Buying food at the discount store, the prices were:
- 4 sausages 7 euro
- Large bottle of water 6 euro
- One small pastry 3 euro
- Dry soup 2.50 eur
- Beer 5 euro (during the week sold until 8pm, on Saturdays til 6 pm and none on weekends). You could find a bit cheaper one too.
A pizza dinner for three with tea cost us 80 euros in the city center. Good thing we had some food supplies from home! Bread, canned goods and sweets went a long way! We also borrowed thermoses from the host.
Entrance fee to Polaria aquarium was 13 euro, the cable car cost 19 euro and ferry to Lyngen Alps for three and a car was 13 euros.
What Should You Wear Not to Be Cold While Chasing Auroras
While it is relatively warmer than in other places with similar latitude, it can still be very cold, and the temperature varied a lot – city center might have -8C, but a few dozen kilometers further it would be -30C! The views were absolutely stunning, but you have to be prepared. This article summarizes everything you might need to bring with you not to get cold. If you do not own proper winter clothing, perhaps, it is best to get one of the ready tours, that provide it.
Looking for Auroras in Tromso
When we landed, the views outside the window were simply incredible – fjords, open water, cliffs, mountains and all covered in white. It was absolutely out of this world!
It took us by surprise that there were so many tourists from Asia, as we did not expect this city to be so popular with Chinese and Korean tourists! They come here to experience dog sledding, real winter and, of course, Northern Lights!
Already on the first night we could see green glimmer above our heads, but as city is relatively light, we drove out of it for proper viewing, in the direction of Ersfjordbotn. There, you will see that people simply leave the cars on the side of the road and stay outside, observing the sky. We drove around a bit, looking for the best spot, and turned out, while everyone was waiting on one side, aurora was on the other! So when we emerged from an enclave of the mountains, we saw incredible green tails all over the sky!
It looked just like we had hoped it would, only a little less green – this is the effect of the photography equipment being different than human eye. And so we continued driving around, in the direction of Grotfjord, looking for the best places, and aurora was changing too, moving, pulsating, dancing, getting weaker and then stronger. It was absolutely out of this world experience!
What Else to See Around Tromso
Chances are, that you will want to see something else during the day as well. One such place to visit is beautiful Sommaroy, a fishing village about 35 km from Tromso. The roads are well maintained but sometimes you will encounter road cleaning equipment and will need to wait a bit for it to go by. We drove at snail’s pace, stopping every couple kilometers, as the views were out of this world! Beautiful, crystal clean sea, where you can see every stone and grain of sand, sunny skies with some clouds and incredible mountains around. I was not prepared for this beauty, and I absolutely did not expect it to be this amazing!
Once in Sommaroy, we decided to climb Hillesoya hiking path to the observatory. We drove around a bit and understood that there is nowhere else to park other than on Sommaroy side, before the bridge, and then we needed to walk to the trail. We went to the left side of the road and at first, couldn’t find where the trail begins. Then we noticed a local coming towards us and we though we will hear about us going through his garden or something, but instead, he was just encouraging us to continue going further and showed us the beginning of the trail! He goes up this trail every day, to check it is all good and does not require maintenance of some kind. We saw quite a few climbers on the way, and some were very “thin” dressed, others, like us, dawn coats and all.
The climb is steep and you will need to use ropes in some places in order to climb up. Apparently, there is a easier slope on the other side, more suitable for children too. The views here are out of this world amazing! The color of water is just incredible, such turquoise blue, that it seems unreal this water is not in the tropics! You can see from the top a beautiful village with pretty little houses (and Artic hotel – a lovely place I would have wanted to stay for a couple days as well!).
We spend a bit of time at the top and then it started to get cold, as while you are moving the weather is perfect, but sitting still gets to your bones quite quickly. We went back down and stopped at a local cafe, where, while the food did not look particularly appealing, it was tasty and not expensive – fries, hamburger, fish, coffee and soda cost us 35 euros.
On the next day we decided to head in the opposite direction, to Lyngen Alps. We had heard it is a popular place for skiing, but we just went to appreciate the beauty. Leaving Tromso and entering area between Fagernes and Breivikeidet, we were surprised by sudden change of the scenery – everything is covered in ice crystals and the nature looks incredible.
There were fresh footprints of moose and deer in the snow, and the thermometer showed around -30C! Soon we reached the ferry stop and it must have left recently, as we are among the first ones there. It felt like it was relatively early, the sun has just appeared and we saw the moisture rolling over the area, leaving everything covered in white crystals.
The beach was full of ice sculptures and you had to be careful not to get your feet wet! What surprised us the most, was the incredibly clean (and heated!) bathroom near the ferry. You can put your layers of clothing in order and warm up a bit there too. Finally we saw the ferry and soon we were aboard. The tickets had to be purchased on the ferry. We also quickly ate a sandwich and drank some tea there, and soon we were on the opposite side! It only took us about 20 minutes.
We spend the next few hours driving around, and it felt like there were no people. Rarely we came across another car or person. We drove as far as we could get, when the sun started to set. Days pass quickly at this time of the year! We were trying to find a place to eat, but everything was closed, and there was not even a store. Soon we saw first tails of green in the sky, and we realized that we are quite tired and must head back. As we had a picture of the ferry schedule and we knew the estimated time of arrival at the port, we raced ourselves, as at times it showed we will be one minute past the departure time, and at others – few minutes early. In the end, we managed to arrive on time, as we saw the cars boarding the ferry, we understood we might have a different problem altogether -the ferry is going to be full! In the end, we got lucky, and got the one final place for the car!
What to See and Do in Tromso City Other Than Aurora Chasing
It is time to finally explore Tromso! We headed to the city on an early morning, and there was moisture and fog everywhere as well. The quay was empty and it was just birds and us. On the opposite side of the bridge we saw the famous Arctic Cathedral and Fjellheisen cable car, where we went later.
Our first stop was Polaria, the northernmost aquarium in the world, where you can learn more about arctic nature. The entrance is 13 euros for an adult. It is visually similar to the Arctic cathedral on the opposite side and symbolizes the ice pressed on the land. The creators of Polaria had children in mind as visitors, but even adults will find it an interesting opportunity to see sea urchins, stars and algae, some of which we just saw at the port! There is also a marine animals show.
Finally, we were ready to go to the most incredible place in Tromso, Fjellheisen, which allows you to see the city from the 420 m height. The entrance fee is even steeper – 19 euros per person. We went there for sunset, hoping to also catch the blue hour and maybe an aurora!
Once we exited the cable car, we went outside, and it felt like a skating rink here! Some people were wearing ice chains on their feet! Further on, where there were less people, the snow was much better, not as slippery, and we enjoyed a wonderful walk at the side of the mountain. Soon the sun set and it got darker and colder. As I had forgotten my chemical hand warmers in the car, I got very cold very soon, and headed to the cafe to warm up. A warm meal and creamy cocoa are just what I needed! I also got a coveted seat at the window and enjoyed the view over the city. The aurora was not showing itself, and we headed down to our car. As soon as we got to the parking lot, it appeared, a bright green arrow in the sky. What to do, we must head to Ersfjordbotn and Grotfjord again!
We spent 4 wonderful days in Tromso, and it impressed me much more than I expected. Northern Norway is an incredible place to head to in winter for aurora chasing, and both children and adults will enjoy it immensely!
Exploring the Northernmost Inhabited Area in the World – Svalbard
Looking for more information on Norway? Check out this Lonely Planet guide!